Trs. of the Gen. Assembly of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc. v. Patterson

Decision Date19 March 2021
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 21-634-KSM
Citation527 F.Supp.3d 722
Parties The TRUSTEES OF the GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF the LORD JESUS CHRIST OF the APOSTOLIC FAITH, INC., et al., Plaintiffs, v. Anthoneé PATTERSON, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Beth L. Weisser, Michael K. Twersky, Fox Rothschild, LLP, Philadelphia, PA, Emma M. Kline, Fox Rothschild LLP, Warrington, PA, for Plaintiffs.

Andrew S. Gallinaro, Joseph W. Jesiolowski, Kevin Dooley Kent, Conrad O'Brien, PC, Philadelphia, PA, for Defendant Anthonee Patterson.

Amy Marie Kirby, City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, for Defendant Rochelle Bilal.




B. The Patterson Action—The Early Days (1995March 2006)...734
C. The Patterson Action—The Middle Years and Early Appeals (1995March 2006)...736
E. The Patterson Action—Appeals (20062016)...740
i. Commonwealth Court's January 31, 2008 Decision that Judge Naythons Exceeded the Scope of His Authority, Vacating the Arbitration Award and Remanding to Trial Court...740
ii. Commonwealth Court's January 31, 2008 Decision on Trustees ad Litem's Motion to Intervene...741
iii. 2012 and 2013 Decisions of the Trial Court and Commonwealth Court on Whether Patterson Had Proper Statutory Standing...742
iv. 2014 and 2015 Decisions of the Trial Court and Commonwealth Court as to Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction Over the Patterson Action...743
v. Patterson's Motion to Declare All Orders Inconsistent with the April 26 Arbitration Award as Void and the Trial Court's July 14, 2016 Order...743
F. The Judge Slomsky Action (20162017)...743
G. The Patterson Action—The Later Days and Appeals (2017–Present)...744
i. Commonwealth Court's November 29, 2017 Decision Reversing Trial Court's July 14, 2016 Order...744
ii. Commonwealth Court's April 15, 2019 Decision...745
iii. 2020–Present...746
B. Application...751
i. Collateral Estoppel...751
a. Element One: Whether the Issues in this Case Are Identical to Those in the Patterson Action...751 b. Elements Three and Four: Whether Plaintiffs Were a Party to the Patterson Action or in Privity with Bishop Shelton, and Whether They Had a Fair and Full Opportunity to Litigate...758
1. Plaintiffs Were Not Parties to the Patterson Action...758
2. Plaintiffs Were Not in Privity with Bishop Shelton in the Patterson Action...761
3. Plaintiffs Did Not Have a Full and Fair Opportunity to Litigate in the Patterson Action...765
ii. Rooker-Feldman ...767
B. Application...768
i. Likelihood of Success on the Merits...768
a. Declaratory Judgment...769
b. Sheriff's Immunity— Ex Parte Young ...772
ii. Irreparable Harm...774
iii. Balance of Harms Between Movant and Nonmovant...777
iv. Public Interest...778

Shortly after an eviction notice was posted on the doors of the Church premises—marking the near culmination of an almost thirty-year dispute in state court in the matter of Anthoneé Patterson v. Kenneth Shelton , July Term 1995, No. 2945 (the "Patterson Action")Plaintiffs The Trustees of the General Assembly of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc. (the "Church Corporation") and the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith (the "Church") (collectively, "Plaintiffs") filed a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction (Doc. No. 4-3) in this Court. Plaintiffs seek to enjoin Defendants Anthoneé Patterson and Rochelle Bilal, in her official capacity as Sheriff of Philadelphia County, (collectively, "Defendants") from carrying out a Writ of Possession and Eviction Notice issued in the Patterson Action. The Writ and Eviction Notice are the products of a 2006 Arbitration Award that the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania initially vacated in 2008, but then in 2017, upheld as the last valid judgment in the Patterson Action. Plaintiffs assert that this award cannot properly be enforced as to them because Plaintiffs were not parties to the Patterson Action. (Id. ; see also Doc. No. 1.)

The Court granted the motion for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") on February 12, 2021 (Doc. No. 13) and held an evidentiary hearing on the motion for preliminary injunctive relief on February 23, 24, and 25, 2021. The Court then extended the TRO on February 26, 2021, and again on March 17, 2021, pending resolution of the preliminary injunction motion. (See Doc. Nos. 27, 36.)

For the reasons discussed below, the Court now grants Plaintiffsmotion for a preliminary injunction.

I. Factual Background
A. The Church's Founding and Its Governing Documents

In October 1919, the Church was founded by Bishop S.C. Johnson. The Church, an unincorporated entity, is headquartered in Philadelphia at 701 South 22nd Street. (Doc. No. 4-7 at ¶ 3 (Brown Decl.).) It currently has more than 50 satellite churches2 across the United States and is comprised of approximately 6,000 members, with 3,000 members of the flock located in Philadelphia. (See Brown Decl. at ¶ 7; Doc. No. 28 ("Feb. 23, 2021 Tr.") at 172:20–173:4.)

The Church's highest adjudicatory body is its spiritual leader, the General Overseer (also known as the Bishop). (See, e.g. , Brown Decl. at ¶ 8; Askew v. Trs. of the Gen. Assembly of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith Inc. , 684 F.3d 413, 415–16 (3d Cir. 2012) (describing hierarchy of the Church).) The General Overseer position is a lifetime appointment. (Brown Decl. at ¶ 9; see also Pls.’ Ex. 7 to Hr'g (Article VII).) The General Overseer has complete authority over all spiritual and doctrinal matters, including the Church's membership. (See Feb. 23, 2021 Tr. at 177:7–10, 185:7–9; Pls.’ Ex. 1 to Hr'g at p. 7 (Article X) & p. 13; see also Askew , 684 F.3d at 420 ("The Bylaws also delegate to the General Overseer the power to determine membership status.").)

The Church is governed by its Rules and Bylaws, which were first propounded in 1961 (Pls.’ Ex. 1 to Hr'g) and later amended in 2000 (Pls.’ Ex. 2 to Hr'g) and 2006 (Patterson's Ex. 48 to Hr'g). Pursuant to the original bylaws, the Church has two officers: the General Overseer and a General Secretary.3 (Pls.’ Ex. 1 to Hr'g at p. 1 (Article I, Section 1).) In the event of the General Overseer's death, the General Secretary temporarily assumes the General Overseer's duties until the General Assembly holds an election to appoint a successor. (Id. at p. 10 (Article XVI).)

The bylaws dictate that a Board of Trustees manages the affairs of the General Assembly (also known as the Church body); the Board is comprised of members of the congregation. (Id. at p. 9 (Article XIV).) The General Overseer serves as the President of the Board of Trustees. (Id. at p. 1 (Article I, Section 2) & p. 9 (Article XVI).) Because the General Overseer serves for life, the position of President of the Board of Trustees is necessarily also a lifetime appointment. (See, e.g. , Brown Decl. at ¶ 14.) All other members of the Board of Trustees must first be nominated by the General Overseer and then voted on by the General Assembly. (Pls.’ Ex. 1 at p. 9 (Article XVI); Brown Decl. at ¶¶ 17–18.)

The Church Corporation is a separate entity and was duly incorporated as a non-profit corporation under the laws of Pennsylvania in 1947. (See Pls.’ Ex. 7 to Hr'g (1947 Articles of Incorporation).) Membership in the Church Corporation is restricted to those who are serving as members of the Board of Trustees of the General Assembly. (See Pls.’ Ex. 7 to Hr'g (Article IX); Pls.’ Ex. 2 to Hr'g (2000 Amendments); Patterson's Ex. 48 to Hr'g (2006 Amendments).) Pursuant to the Articles of Incorporation, the six-member Board of Trustees of the Church Corporation holds legal title to all the Church Corporation's property. (See Pls.’ Ex. 7 to Hr'g (Article VI).) In accordance with the bylaws, the Church Corporation also holds title to all of the Church's real and personal property. (See Pls.’ Ex. 1 to Hr'g at pp. 1–2 (Article II, Section 2).)

B. The 1991 Schism and Key Players

Bishop McDowell Shelton succeeded Bishop S.C. Johnson as General Overseer and President of the Board of Trustees following Bishop Johnson's death in 1961.

Bishop McDowell Shelton had seven adopted sons and one daughter: Maceco Shelton; Fincourt Shelton; Arthur Shelton; Erik Shelton; Edward Shelton; Roddy Nelson Shelton; and Kenneth Shelton; and Marian Shelton. Many of the Shelton children served as members of Church clergy and/or as Trustees.

In October 1991, Bishop McDowell Shelton died. At the time of McDowell Shelton's death, Roddy Nelson Shelton held the position of the General Secretary. Under the bylaws, as General Secretary, Roddy Shelton should have temporarily assumed the duties of General Overseer until either he or another was validly elected General Overseer. However, such a straightforward succession did not happen.

Bishop McDowell Shelton's death and the resulting crisis over who was to succeed him created a schism in the Church. Ultimately, separate factions within the Church formed—Kenneth Shelton in the majority faction, and Roddy Nelson Shelton and his son (Roddy J.N. Shelton, II), Fincourt Shelton, and Anthoneé Patterson in the minority faction.

The head of the majority faction, Kenneth Shelton, became the leader of the Church4 in 1992. He subsequently declared that all of those who aligned themselves with Roddy Nelson Shelton were disfellowshipped and no longer members of the Church. (Feb. 23, 2021 Tr. at 182:15–183:3.) Anthoneé Patterson and Roddy Nelson Shelton began assembling with their flock—the minority faction—at 891 Main Street, Darby, Pennsylvania (the "Darby...

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